Impressions from Paris: The Circus and a Horse with no Name

As we grow older, we tend to find refuge in our childhood memories that are often associated with parent’s love, joy and comfort. One of the most exciting events during my childhood days in Romania was the circus’ visit in our small town. The only other event that came close in terms of wander and magic was the fair, but that’s for another story. I remember being fascinated by the Circus’ magic atmosphere displayed by the acrobats that were performing breath taking acts at high altitude, exotic wild animals, flame eater, knife thrower, the magician that would “slice” the poor lady in three equal parts and somehow reattach her successfully, funny clowns, the music and especially – the smell of the sawdust that covered the arena’s floor. In fact, I was so attracted to the Circus’ life, that around age of 6 I was considering leaving home and join the ever wandering Circus.

Today, the only event that could deliver the magic punch would consider being Cirque du Soleil, and we’ve been able to see few of its shows. Since Sharon is quite familiar with my circus “fever,” she was very glad to announce that while doing research for our trip to Paris, she discovered that Cirque d’ Hiver has a permanent location there and she managed to reserve tickets! That was the moment when I truly started to get excited (aside from the thoughts of unlimited daily doses of buttery and flaky croissants, crusty baguettes with large holes and open crumb and other sins…).

Once in Paris, the circus proved to be as everything I imagined and expected: lions, horses, clowns, acrobats, live orchestra (no lady “slicing,” though), and the sawdust was replaced by a …carpet!? The magic was on, “Big Time” and I almost felt embarrassed to show how much I was enjoying it. While completely immersed in the drama – comedy – action, my mind was playing games and I soon realized that I had slowly drifted 47 years back to my childhood. Here my story begins:

Cirque d'Hiver, ParisIt was a nice summer afternoon and I was walking back home while holding hands with my grandfather. We were returning from the matinee show of the circus and I couldn’t have been happier. While humming to myself, grandpa asked: “Have I told you the story about the “Horse with no Name”? And without waiting for my reply, he continued: “Years ago, before you were born, your father owned a cart and few horses. He would work for a freight company hauling goods between towns. Sometimes he would go by himself or join a convoy and be away for few days. He had at least four horses and two would rest while he was away on a trip with the other couple of horses.

He mentioned that he wanted to add another horse to his stable and was actively looking to do so. The day came, but when he returned with the new horse, he had an upset look on his face. When I inquired about it, he replied shortly: “He won’t pull the cart”!

I went outside and there it was: a fine looking animal, muscular looking, with shiny skin, standing proud and taller than any other horse in the stable. At first glance, I couldn’t notice anything wrong with this magnificent creature but a second look showed that it was too “manicured” looking: the tail and mane were carefully braided. I asked: “Son, where did you find this horse?” – “At the circus, they were selling some of their horses at a very good price” – he said. “I bet they would” I said and started to laugh. I took a stick and started to rhythmically bang on an empty tin, and then it happened! The big creature leaned on its hind legs, lifted its front and started to step in the rhythm of the drumming. The scene was quite surreal and your father was gawking at the horse. I couldn’t stop laughing but II managed to shout: “Son, this isn’t a working horse – it’s a DANCINC horse”.

The common practice those days was to “Baptize” a new horse. Following the first trip, and after forging a strong bond between the horse and its master, the horse is given a name and then officially joins the stable. Obviously, this wasn’t the case here and the horse was pompously returned to its former master at the circus.This was a first of many times I would hear the story of “The Horse with no Name” a.ka “The Dancing Horse”.

This story isn’t really about Paris, the circus or a horse, but about my father who was a gentle and loving parent, who shaped me into the person I became. I wrote this story because his “Yahrzeit” (lighting a 24-hour candle on the anniversary of someone’s death) is taking place this week.